insects are by no means unique in having evolved such functions, they may well be the group of animals that took chemical performance in the service of the functions to its most sophisticated expression. The adage "better living through chemistry" may indeed be more applicable to insects than to the industrial giant that coined it (37).

What we know already about insect chemistry is tantalizing, but there can be no question that the best is yet to come. Only a tiny percentage of insects have so far been subject to even the most cursory chemical study. There is no telling what, in the line of molecular novelty and chemical ecological ingenuity, the remainder might have to offer.


Studies of arthropod defensive chemistry continue to bring to light novel structures and unanticipated biosynthetic capabilities. Insect alkaloids, such as the heptacyclic acetogenin chilocorine and the azamacrolides, exemplify both of these aspects of arthropod chemistry. Spider venoms are proving to be rich sources of neuroactive components of potential medical interest. The venom of a fishing spider, Dolomedes okefinokensis, has yielded a polyamine which reversibly blocks L- and R-type voltage-sensitive calcium channels. Most recently, we have characterized, from the funnel-web spider Hololena curta, a sulfated nucleoside glycoside which serves as a reversible blocker of glutamate-sensitive calcium channels. The ability to synthesize or acquire an extremely diverse array of compounds for defense, offense, and communication appears to have contributed significantly to the dominant position that insects and other arthropods have attained.

The support of our research on insect-related chemistry by National Institutes of Health Grants AI12020 and AI2908, National Science Foundation Grant MCB-9221084, and by Hatch Project Grants NY(C)-191424 and NY(C)-191425, as well as by the Schering-Plough Research Institute, the Merck Research Laboratories, and Cambridge NeuroScience, Inc., is gratefully acknowledged.


1. Erwin, T. L. (1983) in Tropical Rain Forest: Ecology and Management, eds. Sutton, S. L., Whitmore, T. C. & Chadwick, A. C. (Blackwell, Edinburgh), pp. 59-75.

2. Wilson, E.O. (1988) in Biodiversity, ed. Wilson, E.O. (Natl. Acad. Press, Washington, DC), pp. 3-18.

3. Eisner, T. & Wilson, E. O. (1977) in The Insects: Readings from Scientific American , eds. Eisner, T. & Wilson, E. O. (Freeman, San Francisco), pp. 3-15.

4. Carrel, J. E. & Eisner, T. (1974) Science 183, 755-757.

5. Meinwald, J., Jones, T. H., Eisner, T. & Hicks, K. (1977) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 74, 2189-2193.

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